There is something very appealing about having the warmth of your home by a waterfall today, on a cliff tomorrow, and at your favorite café at the weekend. How easy is it to live this way and enjoy wild camping?
Even after ten years, our family still enjoys living this way. Having a drink with the wife, watching the waves, and then just strutting home, pleasantly winded. 50 yards to the van.
I'm fascinated by the idea of looking at the same bay that someone else has procured a property for in that location. I enjoy the fact that we ration our views and surroundings on the road according to our mood. We don't have to plan anything. Wild camping is freedom.
We all have a desire for freedom. But everyone has to suppress it at times. Life puts all kinds of restrictions in our way. Freedom is the true essence of caravan travel. Why else would we voluntarily sleep in a car park and squeeze into ten meters of space in a caravan with the whole family? What we get in return is a giant lump of freedom.
It started with a caravan
But let's go back to the beginning when a caravan meant a caravan behind a car, when freedom was still cautious, and free camping wasn't spoken of. Staying was limited to campsites, places to caravan sufficiently equipped where you could ‘bring the trailer to life'. It's only turned around in the last 30 years when motorhomes – fully functional anywhere – have proliferated. They have their own water, heating, kitchen, electricity, just everything. So the last decade has seen explosive growth in places that are not campsites, but rather short-term ports of call for nomads. RVs and caravans are very self-sufficient thanks to technology and infrastructure.
A cocktail of joy
Now add the final ingredient to this cocktail of joy – the ability to work remotely – and you have a revolution in travel. The ability to make a living from travel brings a huge increase in freedom and the potential to enjoy wild camping. You can see it all over Europe. Meanwhile, municipalities and regions in many places don't know what to do, and campsites continue to target the family under the tent by the campfire. And everyone is improvising a bit and finding ways to cope with the flood of habitation. It's a big opportunity.
Plus, even with the pandemic, we've found that if it can't be done in a hotel, maybe it can be done in a house on wheels. And as we dove in, not everyone realized that the freedom package comes with an inseparable bag of responsibility. And so now the imaginary end of the big party is underway. One part of the traveling public is explicitly against sharing “secret” places, and the other part wishes we would learn to walk the walk so that RV travel remains sustainable and appealing to our children.
It's not even that complicated. It's simply about cleaning up after ourselves. To leave it as we found it. To discover empathy for nature.
It's easy for paid places, whether it's a campsite, a farm, a winery, or a private meadow. A paid place is a business and it can be cleaned up quite effectively. But it's much harder for wild camping places that are open for all of us, and that might be free. That's where the thinking of a previous era kicks in for many, “it's not my trash, so why would I pick it up”, unfortunately. But change is happening here too. The StayFree app has an initiative that motivates caravanners directly to clean up.
The rules in Europe are still inconsistent in this sense, but there are many good tips and practices that, if followed, will make every trip a great joy for you and the locals. Find out more in the detailed map compiled by European caravanners under the auspices of Camperguru.
Ethical camping principles
- Sleeping somewhere for one night, like a tired driver, should be fine in all European countries.
- Frequent moving and parking without outdoor equipment (table, chair, awning) is tolerated more than full camping.
- The words ‘camping', ‘wild camping', and ‘free camping' typically mean just those pulled-out tables, chairs, and awnings. When a sign says ‘no camping behavior', it typically just means ‘keep your furniture inside your vehicle'.
- Overnight camping in national parks is fined in almost all of Western Europe, as it is on the beaches of the Southeast.
- The high season – July and August – is typically much stricter than the off-season, especially in summer destinations.
And also, if you're into learning even more about camping regulations in Europe & tips for traveling beyond, such as along the Silk Road in Asia, check out Caravanistan, a community made by Steven, which is well-respected in the community.
How campers most often go wrong
If we take a close look at the very most common mischief committed by campers in the world of over-wild camping, it's clearly pouring chemical toilets “into the bushes” and down public drains. We touched on this more in a previous article. The other popular vice is parking across several parking spaces, thus clogging up the parking lot faster with multiple dwellings. A lot of times the RVs have a trailer for a car or motorcycle, and often they can't fit in the space for a car, so this can then annoy locals who have come to the bar for coffee and have nowhere to park. A lot of places have got a 2m high entrance frame because of this.
There are quite a few differences in restrictions between countries in Europe. While in Spain you'll be welcome almost anywhere, in Portugal's south, the Algarve region, fines fall frequently. And the popular Croatia is considered the strictest country in Europe ever, it's easy to get crowded in the summer even without a dwelling.
In the last two years, the seaside and free places have rather dwindled, but don't worry, there are still plenty.